Macquarie Island (known as "Macca")
Macquarie Island (named after Governor Macquarie of Australia), is an isolated little island only 21 miles long lying 150 miles south of Campbell and a few hundred west. But it has an interesting geological history, it is west of the Campbell plateau on the line of the now defunct spreading centre that separated New Zealand from Australia. Like the current northern end of the mid-Pacific Rise the northern end of the spreading centre seems to have been stuffed down the subduction zone and under New Zealand along what is now the "Alpine fault". So why are there no andesite volcanoes down the West Coast?? We don't know anything except that nature is, more oft than not, capricious.
As a fifteen million year-old preserved fragment of a dying mid-oceanic rise, it is formed of oceanic basalts, in lava pillows, dikes and massive flows. Even more than New Zealand or even the Aucklands it is in the path of the Roaring Forties and fog, gales, squalls of rain and skiffs of snow are the norm. For thousands of years millions of penguins and tens of thousands of seals enjoyed their sanctuary, untroubled by even the weather, one could always go into the sea. But then a passing ship sighted it and also sighted the thousands of seals. Within five years they were all gone. One ship alone, the "Aurora", took 35,000 fur seal hides back to Sydney where they found a ready market. This was the same era in which the buffalo, the elk, and the beaver were being exterminated in North America as were the Sea Otter in the Aleutians, and the whales around New Zealand, truly the early 19th century was a disastrous period for animals.
The sea elephants went next, into the try-pots for oil, as whaling could no longer keep up with the demand for oil for lamps. Then, unbelievably, it was the turn of the penguins to be herded into wire cages and tossed into the try-pots. One of the two main King penguin rookeries was wiped out. The sea Elephants partly recovered but have declined again by 50% in that 40 years.
Many ships were wrecked and many crew were drowned, some survived though starved. But the rats as always got ashore and a plague of rats killed off the sea-birds aided by cats. Unbelievably the Gentoo penguins must have learned to deal with both rats and cats as they are still there, but seabirds seem to be rarely seen. Rabbits were released as a source of food for shipwrecked sailors, so the vegetation is stunted and soil erosion is bad.
In a small way the wildlife is recovering though the sea-elephants are declining in numbers again as are the Rockhopper penguins as the food chains are disrupted by fleets of trawlers the size of a smallish oil-tanker that scoop tens of thousands of tons of fish and squid each year, while long-liners set lines several miles long for tuna. In addition thousands of tons of unwanted "by-catch is thrown back in the sea to the joy of the albatrosses but no so good for the wildlife whose main diet it was.
Steven Lewis of Uni. of Tasmania who has spent two summers doing graduate work on the rocks of Macca has given us these pix, some of the best ever seen from the region. Just perhaps, we may one day have the same kind of coverage for all the subantarctic islands.
Macca is now a main attraction for dozens of tourist ships, who put ashore boatloads of tourists who clump through the rookeries with cameras, so look well at the pix shown here. Within a few decades the animals may be gone as the smaller seabirds which once nested in the rocks have long since. However, it is just possible that a hundred mile exclusion zone could be declared around such islands, so that all the local products of the sea is reserved for the use of original inhabitants.
It appears that the sealers did such a thorough job of extermination of the fur seals that it is now not even known what species they were. It is guessed that about 200,000 were killed and it was not until 1955 that fur seals were seen on Macca again, after 130 years. Now there are small colonies of Antarctic and New Zealand fur seals, but no pix as yet. Fur seals have two states of activity, one lying in most unphotogenic attitudes while dozing, and the other charging either at you or for the beach on all fours and moving a bit faster that one can run. An Alsatian was misguided enough to attack one on St Clair beach once, the seal clomped its teeth into it and took the poor shepherd out to sea and drowned it! A third pose they adopt on calm days is floating on their backs, eyes closes with fins and flippers crossed, a picture of indolence!
<< There are at least two kinds of crested penguin on Macca, the Royal as seen here, very like the Macaroni which is so common in the South Atlantic but with a white throat and chin, not black.
The Rockhopper >> with his beady red eye and black chin, lives up in the rocks above the beach, up which he hops with great dexterity. Rockhoppers are declining very rapidly, but worse on Campbell where 90% have gone in 20 years. Some "experts" claim "warming seas". Well, the last time I fell in our "Suther Notion" I had to swim a couple of hundred yards to shore and was so numb on arrival that I lay helplessly rolling in a light ripple unable to climb out. A friend saw the problem and hauled me forth. If that water is "Too warm" for penguins, may God warm their poor little tootsies!
|__| The summit of Macquarie. Obviously once it possessed an ice cap but not one big enough to gouge out fiords which make such good harbours.
|__| A harem of female elephants.